Monday, October 25, 2004

If you let black Democrats in the Old Dominion tell it, “Virginia is still in play” for the upcoming presidential election, and they are the reason why.

Those wishful words certainly come courtesy of the likes of Alexandria Mayor William Euille. Leave it to Rep. James P. Moran to be blunt.

“We as Democrats know that it’s the African-American vote we need to get us elected,” said Mr. Moran, who is seeking re-election to his 8th District seat in Congress.

Black voters, especially in Northern Virginia and Tidewater, the embattled congressman contends, could swing a presidential victory for Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts as they did for Democrats Charles S. Robb and Mark Warner for governor in this Republican-dominated state.

“It comes down to what percentage of turnout we get from this community,” Mr. Moran predicted.

Mind you, Virginia’s 13 electoral votes haven’t been cast for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964. Still, former Alexandria Mayor Kerry Donley told a cheering crowd at the second Democratic Family Reunion held Saturday, “We’re going to be a blue state.” Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, who is seeking the governorship, also remained optimistic, noting that Virginia has so many new voters that it “scares [Republicans] to death.” Ah, wishful thinking?

“Black turnout,” especially “the black youth vote,” were the most bandied about buzzwords of the day at the Mark Center Hilton in Alexandria. More than 800 attended the partisan indoor picnic that featured a pastoral round table and a 2-hour talkathon involving more than 28 rallying speakers.

The family reunion is the concept of Bob James, vice chairman of the Black Caucus of the Democratic Party of Virginia, “to energize, mobilize and educate African-Americans and friends on issues of importance.” The Arlington community activist dedicated the event to African slaves and those who could not exercise their right to vote. “Today, through voting, we can determine our future. We need to exercise our right to vote on behalf of our foreparents who could not.”

Each speaker played on the “family reunion” theme, talking about the impact this presidential election will have on issues affecting each generation from health care and Social Security for senior citizens, to jobs and Pell grants for adults, to education funding for preschoolers.

Ben Johnson, Democratic National Committee deputy chairman, suggested that every family ought to have a family voting plan and appoint a captain in charge of making sure all who can vote, do vote.

His message was repeated by others: If grandma can’t walk and needs an absentee ballot, make sure you get her one. If Uncle Henry doesn’t want to take the bus because it’s raining next Tuesday, make sure you give him a ride. If first-time voters don’t understand how to use the voting machines, show them how. “The most important thing to remember is, do not go to the polls by yourself,” said Michael Brown, DNC vice chairman for finance issues and the son of the late DNC Chairman Ronald Brown. Everyone was asked to call or take 10 people with them on Nov. 2.

Mr. Brown warned about voter intimidation, saying, “Do not leave the polls without voting.” Ryan Haygood, a representative of the NAACP Foundation’s “Election Protection” program, also warned about “WMDs, weapons of mass disenfranchisement.” He distributed fliers with a toll-free number — 866/OUR-VOTE — for anyone who is challenged at the polls where volunteer lawyers from both parties are expected to be on hand.

The valuable messages coming out of this Democratic event for all voters were the solid suggestions for having a smoother voting experience on what promises to be a challenging Election Day: Go early; take a driver’s license or picture identification; and be patient. Remember, you have a right to cast a provisional ballot.

Students from as far away as Charlottesville, the Maryland suburbs and Anacostia High School in the District are expected to attend tonight’s premiere of a documentary aimed at encouraging voter participation by black youths, aptly titled “Stand Up!” It is sponsored by the Council on African-American Affairs, a think tank on U Street NW that is an arm of the Ron Brown Scholarship Program.

“Stand Up!” captures the involvement of Malia Alzu with the Young Voter Alliance; the Time Dollar Institute’s youth services program; the House D.C. after-school program; Virginia Ali, owner of Ben’s Chili Bowl; Paul Delaney and Ron Sarro, veteran civil rights reporters; and Lawrence Guyot, who is seeking re-election to his Ward 1 Advisory Neighborhood Commission seat.

Marquis Brown, a junior political science major and president of the student government at Hampton University, led a group of 50 classmates in a caravan to Northern Virginia. He said the Virginia black caucus allowed “students to benefit from the older generation and made [the older generation] comfortable in passing the torch because they can see we’re not all gangsters.” He said young people are registering and voting because the war in Iraq and mounting budget deficits affect them the most. “Everybody had something that gets them out for Bush or Kerry,” he said.

Exactly. No matter what color, creed or sex, every American must honor his or her primary civic duty. As Viola Baskerville, Virginia delegate and candidate for lieutenant governor, charged Saturday: “Family, it’s time to get your vote on.”

For information about the free “Stand Up!” premiere at 6 p.m. today at the Public Welfare Foundation’s Lankford Auditorium, 1200 U St. NW, call 202/518-5951. A teacher’s guide and the film are freely loaned to middle- and high-school students or youth organizations.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide

Sponsored Stories